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Five communication tips for spouses

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As we continue to adjust to the new normal of sheltering at home and telework, we are physically around our spouses more than ever. This can be a great thing, but it can often come with challenges, especially if we struggle with healthy communication in the marriage. Here are five suggestions for strengthening your relationship during this stressful time by improving the ways we talk to each other.

1)       Be Honest about Concerns

Even in the best of marriages, there will be times when we unintentionally hurt or frustrate each other.  This is especially true when we’re in close proximity all the time due to travel restrictions. If we’re frustrated by something our spouse has done, we need to be honest with them about this. Obviously, we want to be respectful and appropriate when bringing our concerns, but we don’t want to try to sweep our concerns under the rug and pretend nothing happened. This only leads to growing frustration and resentment. One way to think of arguments is that they’re disagreements that didn’t happen soon enough.

2)      Find the Right Time to Talk

Having a difficult conversation successfully means knowing when both of you are in a good place to talk.  Trying to let someone know that you’re upset at 11 p.m. when you’re both trying to go to bed is rarely the best time. It’s a good idea to let your spouse know that there’s something important you’d like to discuss and ask if now is a good time to connect. If it’s not, set at time soon when you can have that conversation.

3)      Make It Collaborative

Healthy communication in a marriage is never about winning an argument. By default, if one spouse “wins” an argument then the other spouse “loses,” it really means that the whole marriage loses. Try to make any problem an “us” issue as opposed to a “you versus me” issue. We want to work together to improve the marriage. Remind yourself that the reason you both are trying to have this conversation is so that you can sort out the things that are keeping you two from connecting as well as you want. Nobody likes to have difficult conversations or tell their spouse that they felt hurt or disappointed. But we do it because we love the person so much that we’re willing to have those uncomfortable encounters in order to address issues, fix problems and strengthen the marriage.

4)      It’s OK to Call a Timeout

Not every conversation is going to go as smoothly as you hope. If you find that you or your spouse are starting to get frustrated during the conversation, it’s OK to pause. When we start getting angry with each other, we end up arguing about how we’re talking to each other, rather than the original issue itself. It’s fine to take a break, have some space to cool down and then reconvene to finish the discussion.

5)      Focus on the Positive

Even when we’re angry with our spouse, we want to remember their good qualities. This helps us keep perspective that we love them, even when we don’t like what they’re doing. Research shows that the happiest couples have at least five positive encounters for every negative encounter. So it’s important to go out of our way to create positive encounters. Tell your spouse the things you admire about them. Tell them when you appreciate something they do. Tell them thank you and that you love them. If you make appreciation and gratitude the bedrock of the marriage, it becomes easier to navigate the rockier moments and return to a joyful place.

Horne is Catholic Charities’ director of clinical services.

Find out more

To make a teletherapy appointment with a Catholic Charities counselor, call 703/425-0109 or 540/371-1124.

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